For many people creepy-crawlies are not particularly high on lists of animals to which we should devote far more resources to save. The more fool us.
The numbers of insects and other invertebrates are plummeting worldwide and we should be pulling out all the stops to try and save them. For one thing, ecosystems are complex, delicately balanced systems and even seemingly minor disturbances can be their undoing. For another, many insects perform vital ecological functions by being sources of food for other animals or acting as pollinators for plants, for instance.
“Insects are the glue in nature and there is no doubt that both the [numbers] and diversity of insects are declining,” Prof. Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, an entomologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, observes. “At some stage the whole fabric unravels and then we will really see the consequences.”
And, alarmingly, across the planet entire ecological fabrics are unravelling. Experts are warning that an insect apocalypse is under way with numerous species undergoing dramatic declines. Insects like ants, bees and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles, which themselves are going extinct at an accelerating pace.
In a new report the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) notes that “Insect abundance has declined very rapidly in some places.” The global extent of declines in insect numbers remains unknown, but experts estimate that at least a tenth of the 5.5 million species of insects may be facing extinction.
And included among them are key species such as pollinators like honeybees, which have been going AWOL in countries where they were once plentiful, such as the United Kingdom.The loss of wildlife habitats to farmland and the wanton use of pesticides have been largely responsible for decimating insect populations. So have changes in weather patterns as a result of climate change.
Yet the plight of insects remains largely unlamented because most people don’t pay them any heed. That is why “[t]he first stage is to get people to appreciate these little creatures,” Sverdrup-Thygeson stresses.
“I can understand people might not be interested in saving insects for insects’ sake. But people should realise this will come back on ourselves,” the expert says. “We should save insects, if not for their sake, then for our own sake, because it will make it even more difficult than today to get enough food for the human population of the planet, to get good health and freshwater for everybody. That should be a huge motivation for doing something while we still have time.”